Tips for school councils

Tip 1: Conduct a parent survey

The key to building parent engagement lies in understanding the needs and interests of parents before planning programs and activities. Use a survey to help you identify and respond to what parents in your school community need and want. Keep these guidelines in mind:

  • distribute the survey to all parents
  • consider a variety of means of distribution, including electronic and paper
  • survey questions should include all of the ways parents may become involved in the school, rather than focusing on involvement in school council
  • translate the survey into a variety of languages, if possible
  • consider including:
    • a list of the types of specific school activities for which parent involvement is needed and welcomed – from accompanying classes on field trips to volunteering for special events
    • an opportunity for parents to identify the special skills, talents or experience they would be interested in sharing
    • a list of information topics about supporting their children’s learning and well-being where parents can indicate which areas they would like to learn more about
    • an invitation for parents to participate in career days and special interest events, with space for the parent to indicate their interests
    • an opportunity for parents to identify any barriers which prevent them from becoming involved, or attending school events
    • an opportunity for parents to indicate their preferred mode of communication from the council, meetings, or workshop delivery (for example, in person or virtually)
    • contact information, including email, telephone, text, and mailing address, where parents would like to receive information, keeping in mind appropriate Freedom of Information and school board protocols that your school principal can help you with

Tip 2: Develop an action plan

Use the parent survey responses to develop a parent engagement action plan:

  • consider if there are barriers to parent involvement that need to be addressed
  • identify areas in which parents are willing and available to help, and the skills and experience they have offered to share
  • respond immediately with a warm welcome to parents who have shown a willingness to become involved
  • consider the kinds of information parents need and want, and their suggestions for improving communication, when planning newsletters, information nights and other information-sharing programs
  • discuss any barriers to parent involvement, and plan to address barriers
  • create a parent contact list based on the survey information provided
  • work with the school principal to develop a plan that identifies the activities to be undertaken, the individual(s) who will assume responsibility, and when and where the activity is to take place or if it will be virtual

Create an inclusive welcome

Some parents may not be comfortable in a school setting. For example, newcomers to Canada may have experienced a very different school setting and may be unfamiliar with the school environment. These tips will help you create a school climate that makes parents feel comfortable and welcome.

Tip 3: Create a school information package

Create a welcoming information package for parents new to the school. Be sure to include information about the school and its programs, the school council and its meetings, key dates and school events and opportunities for parent involvement.

Tip 4: Meet and greet new parents

Work with the principal to find opportunities for council members to meet more parents, and new parents. This might include general information nights or welcome events for new parents, or more focused information sessions, for example, geared to the information needs of parents with children in kindergarten, Grade 8 or Grade 9.

Tip 5: Bring a friend

Encourage council members to invite and bring a new parent to each council meeting to welcome them to the school and the council.

Tip 6: Welcome new members

Make new members feel welcome at council meetings. Take time for introductions at the beginning of the meeting. Ask new members to talk about their children and the grades they are attending.

At the end of the meeting, the Chair or other council members can make a special effort to speak with new members, thanking them for their attendance, asking them if they need any assistance or information, and inviting them to attend the next meeting.

Parents who do not feel welcome are much less likely to return.

Tip 7: Plan a newcomers event

Consider how best to reach out to parents who are new to Canada and the school. Get school families involved in planning a special way to welcome families that might include information about the school, the school system, extracurricular activities, and services and opportunities in the local community.

Break down barriers to participation

Many parents would welcome the opportunity to engage in the school community but face barriers to involvement. These tips will help you encourage more parents to get involved by addressing issues such as child care, language, transportation and accessibility to school events and programs.

Tip 8: Child care

Sometimes parents can’t attend meetings because they don’t have access to child care. Consider providing child care to help parents participate more easily in school events. Take care that you are following all board policies and procedures.

Tip 9: Offer translation services

For parents who speak a first language other than English, consider offering translation services for council meetings and other events.

Parents will also appreciate receiving selected school documents, such as newsletters or important information notices, in a variety of languages.

Members of the school community, and the larger community, are often pleased to provide language support to new families.

Tip 10: Vary times and places

Consider holding events or meetings at different times and places - in the community, virtually and/or at different times of day or evening. The local library, for example, is often an ideal place to hold an information event and can serve to raise the public visibility of the school at the same time.

Some parents may be more comfortable meeting outside the school and/or virtually. Others may find it difficult to attend scheduled events – due, for example, to shift work or family commitments.

School events

Creative school events that appeal to the needs and interests of parents provide a key introduction to the school. These tips will help you develop events that will engage parent involvement to help support student achievement and well-being.

Tip 11: Showcase evening

Use a special showcase evening to highlight school programs and activities, to provide parent education, or to offer the opportunity to meet other parents. Here are some ideas to consider in partnership with the school:

  • feature a school activity or project such as the school choir or band, a drama group, science experiments or technology displays
  • consider providing a speaker to present information on a topic of interest to parents such as healthy eating, positive mental health or supporting your child’s learning
  • provide a brief information session by school council on a topic or issue of current interest to the school community

Tip 12: Organize a school fair

Consider organizing a career, health or community services fair. Participants may include parents and representatives from outside groups in the community. A fair provides an excellent opportunity for community involvement and demonstrates the school's commitment to supporting families.

Tip 13: Offer volunteer training program

Offering a school volunteer training program can go a long way to building parent confidence and building involvement. Sessions might be considered, for example, to provide coaching on being a reading buddy, or a library assistant.

Tip 14: Develop a parent education program

Parents often welcome information on a variety of topics related to parenting and their children's schooling. Consider developing information sessions on topics such as:

  • parent-teacher interviews
  • partnering successfully with teachers
  • school volunteering
  • adolescence
  • internet safety
  • healthy lifestyles
  • positive mental health and well-being
  • drug and alcohol issues
  • successful homework hints

Tip 15: Host a welcome back to school event

To re-engage parents early in the school year, and welcome new parents to the school, hold a “Welcome back to school” event in partnership with the school, which might combine a barbeque or similar social event with a meet-the-teacher opportunity.

Tip 16: Organize a multicultural program

Where the school serves a diverse community, multicultural programs and events can serve not only to welcome all parents, but also to share and enjoy a wide range of traditions, cultures, sports and other activities. Some events you may want to consider:

  • hold an international fair in which families create simple displays highlighting their customs and traditions
  • run an outdoor recreation day featuring a popular international sport or other activity which can be shared with the school community, for example, cricket

Get the word out

Communication is essential to building parent involvement. What parents know and perceive about the school depends on what they see, hear and read. These tips will help you use a variety of communications tools to keep parents informed and engaged in the life of the school.

Tip 17: Create a bulletin board

Bulletin boards are often placed in highly visible locations within the school. They can announce school events and important dates. Bulletin boards are most effective when they are well-maintained and up to date. A member of school council can volunteer to ensure that bulletin board items are refreshed regularly.

Items might include:

  • a meeting schedule for the year
  • notices of upcoming meetings including an agenda
  • minutes of past meetings
  • information about how to contact School Council members
  • tips or frequently asked questions for parents on a variety of topics

Tip 18: Have a school newsletter and website

Newsletters and school websites can include information about important school council decisions, and to keep parents informed about school council meetings and activities. Ask your principal about possibilities. Here are a few suggestions:

  • consider creating a school council newsletter which is sent home on a periodic basis, such as fall, winter and spring
  • request that school council activities and announcements are included in the school newsletter
  • consider requesting that an article by a council member be included in each issue of the school newsletter to maintain consistent visibility
  • make the newsletter and other information about school council available on the school website, and update that information regularly

Tip 19: Create a school council display

You can enhance the visibility of school council considerably by creating a special school council display in a prominent, high-traffic public area of the school, or on the school website. Similarly, consider mounting a school council display at school events and information nights or virtual events. You might like to include a school council email or sign-up sheet in your display that will enable parents to volunteer for council activities and provide contact information.

Tip 20: Keep a parent contact list

Take every available opportunity to collect parent contact information for use in sending information updates and reminders, keeping in mind appropriate freedom of information and school board protocols (ask your school principal for information). Contact information may include telephone, text, email, or mailing address.

Tip 21: Use a direct contact program

One to three times per year, consider using your contact list to reach parents directly with a good news item or update. This will help ensure that all parents consistently and reliably receive information, understand the role and activities of school council and have ongoing opportunities to become involved.

Be persistent

Building parent involvement is a process. An effective parent involvement program will take place over months rather than days, and with continued effort, will be sustained over years. These tips will help you maintain consistent parent contact and spread the school message within the wider community.

Tip 22: Reminder program

Parents lead busy lives. Remember to send reminders home to parents about council meetings and other important school events. Email or text are cost-effective and efficient methods for keeping parents informed on a day-to-day basis. If available, an outdoor sign can also be an effective way to keep this information highly visible and top of mind for parents.

Tip 23: Identify yourself at school events

Encourage school council members to be visible at key events such as information nights, school concerts and graduation ceremonies. When participating in school events, consider the use of a name tag so that parents identify you as a school council member.

Tip 24: Be a community ambassador

Encourage school council members to speak up – both formally and informally – about the school whenever they have an opportunity in the community. School council members are often engaged in a variety of social and community organizations who may welcome information about the school and its activities.

Tip 25: Have a recognition program

Provide recognition for school council members, and other parents, for their contributions to various activities and initiatives. This might take the form of a brief note to the parent, a gift certificate, recognition at a school council meeting, mention in the school or school council newsletter, or public mention at a school assembly or other event.